Stephen Tyler

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.

Disaster to the American Ship Susan Gilmore

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Source: Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, Saturday 5 July 1884

Ashore Off Sheperd’s Hill

All Hands Saved

[The following appeared as an extraordinary yesterday at 12 o’clock.]

The American ship Susan Giluore, Captain Carver, with a crew of fourteen hands, left Sydney on Wednesday, at 11 p.m., for Newcastle for coal, consigned to Messrs. C. F. Stokes and Co., in tow of the steamer Irresistible. About half way some delay occurred. Shortly after, Captain Carver hailed the Afghan steamer, bound north, and an attempt was unsuccessfully made to get the hawser from the Irresistible on board her, but the rope parted about 7 o’clock on Thursday night. The captain tried to hang off by the wind, but it was of no use, and the vessel went ashore at 11 o’clock the same night under Shepherd’s Hill, about fifty yards south of where the City of Newcastle went ashore.

At daylight the ship’s last boat was launched, and made two trips, taking seven men ashore before any assistance came. The vessel was then well in the sand; her anchors were let go, but could not hold.
The captain’s wife was in the boat on the third trip, but the boat capsized, and she had a very narrow escape of being drowned. The poor lady was again got on board, fortunately without injury. By this time the alarm had been given. Mr. Robert Watt, nephew of Mr. Robert Watt, of Newcastle, went on the beach at seven o’clock, and saw the ship stranded. Those on board were trying to float a cask from the ship to the shore. Mr. Watt stripped and tried to get to the cask, but the current was too strong, and he returned to shore, dressed, and ran into town, being the first to give the alarm at the Police Station.

The signal gun announced a wreck shortly before 8 o’clock, and the Prince Alfred tug, with the life-boat, put off to the scene of the disaster, while the rocket and life-saving apparstus was sent round by the Lake Road under charge of Mr. H. Fearneaux
(Captain Sheed being in Sydney). The life-boat, in charge of Pilot Dagwell, and which, with the tug, had been in readiness all night, could not get near the vessel, which lay about eighty yards from the rocks, imbedded in the sand, her rudder having parted; and after some time, the life-boat was signalled to return.

On the Rocket Brigade, therefore, devolved the onerous duty of rescuing those aboard, it being found impossible to get to the ship through the surf. The men, under the direction of Captain Allan and Mr. Fearneaux, worked bravely and well. The line was fixed, and the remainder of the crew were brought ashore as rapidly as possible.

A scene of great excitement ensued when the captain’s wife was being brought ashore. The surf was very high and the sea rising rapidly, but she reached the shore safely, although naturally very weak and agitated through her previous capsize and the drenching of the salt water during her airy transit along the life-lines. As soon as she touched the shore, three ringing cheers rang out from the crowd that lined the rocks above and the beach beneath, none seemed to mind the rough weather or the blinding rain. The waves dashed up amongst the hundreds of men, women, and children who were watching the operations of the Rocket Brigade. By direction of the Harbour Master, Mrs. Carver was carried up the fearfully muddy and precipitous ascent from the beach by half-a-dozen willing hands, Mr. Frank Gardner supervising her removal to the Great Northern Hotel, and that of the rescued crew to the Sailor’s Home. Some of the crew, however, remained gallantly to help work the life lines and get their comrades ashore.

When Mrs. Carver was safely landed her first inquiry was for her child, and the little fellow was quickly seen traversing the distance in mid-air between the ship and the shore. Presently he was triumphantly landed and conveyed on the willing shoulders of one of the bystanders up the steep ascent to rejoin his mother.

Captain Carver having seen nearly all hands safe ashore, went on board again, for the ship’s papers and other valuables. The Rocket Brigade, fifteen in number, deserve special praise for its splendid exertions on this occasion. The Brigade consists of fifteen hands, and has lately been re-organised. Much of the success of yesterday is due to the continual practices lately under the supervision of Mr. Hickson, Assistant Engineer.

Captain Allan was one of the first on the scene, and did much by example and advice to bring the exertions of the Rocket Brigade to a successful termination, and also in providing for the conveyance of the shipwrecked parties to town. Inspector Thorpe and the land and water police rendered great and efficient service in keeping the crowd back from impeding the exertions of the Brigade.

The Captain’s Report

Captain Carver reports that his vessel,the American ship Susan Gilmore, 1204 tons, left Sydney with a crew of fourteen hands on Wednesday night, at 11 o’clock. The glass then was high, but the weather showery. She was bound to Newcastle for coal, and consigned to Messrs. C. P.  Stokes and Co., and was in tow of the steamer Irresistible. About half way to her destination, Captain Carver noticed something wrong about 10 o’clock on Thursday morning aboard the steamer.  The Irresistible kept slashing up, and Captain Carver saw the hands at work screwing something up near the engines. The steamer, however, towed the ship till within sight of Nobbys, and then set signals for assistance. None coming up, at about 2 o’clock on Thursday afternoon the ship’s head was put about and made sail. About 5 p.m. Thursday set signals of distress, and the steamer Afghan, bound for Newcastle, came alongside, and tried to take the hawser from the Irresistible, but failed.  The Afghan then made another attempt, and was successful, getting the hawser onboard at about 5.30 p.m; but, going ahead quickly, the hawser, which belonged to the Susan Gilmore, parted. The wind then drawing a little more astern, the ship’s head was kept up the coast, trying to weather Nobby’s.  Finding, however the ship close on to the breakers, and not being able to weather Nobby’s, both anchors were let go. The anchors not holding, the ship stranded at about 11 o’clock on Thursday night.  Captain Carver then sent up rockets and blue lights, and burnt some flare-ups as signals, for abont twenty minutes;  but, as far as the captain observed, no notice was taken of any of these signals by anyone on shore.  At midnight one boat was launched, but was sucked under the ship and destroyed.  At daylight, Friday morning, another boat was launched, but the sea filled her alongside.  The third boat then put off immediately afterwards, and succeeded in successfully landing seven of the crow in two trips.  On the third trip it was attempted to take the captain’s wife ashore; but the boat, like the other, filled alongside, and Mrs. Carver was thrown into the water, but was rescued by her husband, who passed a rope under her, and she was hauled on board again by the second officerf (Mr. Peaselee). The captain then had to swim ashore, being very nearly carried away, and had a hard struggle to reach land. Shortly after this the Rocket Brigade appeared.  A line had already been conveyed from the ship, by which the lifesaving lines were hauled aboard.  The Brigade succeeded in rescuing the captain’s wife, son (aged five years), and the remainder of the crew. The captain then went aboard again and brought ashore the ship’s papers, chronometer, two favourite dogs, a cat, and pet canary, and other treasured articles.  The crew were conveyed to the Sailor’s Home, and Captain Carver, Mrs. Carver, and son, were taken to the G. N. Hotel, where everything was in readiness for their reception.  From this hotel, however, they were invited on board the barque Escort, Captain Waterhouse, from Boston, who is related to Captain Carver’s family.  All are now being hospitably entertained on board that vessel. Neither Mrs. Carver nor child has sustained any physical injury through the disaster. The vessel is now lying where she stranded.  Great credit is due to Captain Humphreys, of the ship Eldorada, and Captain McEachern, of the barque Edith Carmichael; also to Mr. G. O. Hyde, for the kind assistance rendered to Mrs. Carver in helping her ashore and assisting her up the dangerous pathway up the rocks from the beach.

Incidents of the Wreck

Mr. Riley, representing Mr. Alex. Brown (the American Consul), when he was notified of the disaster, soon made his way down to the stranded vessel, and when the sailors had been rescued, attended to their comfort.  Mr. Alex Brown was unavoidably absent, owing to illness.

Capt. Allan, harbour master, in spite of severe indisposition, was very quickly on Shepherd’s Hill, when he received news of the disaster. He did much to secure order and discipline.

Several “old salts” and others got discussing the incidents of the wreck yesterday in several bars, till at length one and all of them became convinced that they saved the lives of those on board.  Then they came around to this office to try and persuade us into the same belief.

It was an act of charity on the part of the master of the Afghan in coming to the assistance of the Susan Gilmore and Irresistible in their hour of need.  Had it not been for even the partial help rendered by the Afghan the disaster might have been more serious than it is.

Mr. Grattan Riggs very kindly invited the wrecked seamen of the Susan Gilmore to be present at the theatre last night.  Most of them availed themselves of the kind offer.  In fact, the fine lads are the heroes of the hour, and great hospitality is being extended to them.

Although the rain was coming down in torrents, the gusts of wind were fiercely driving the pelting rain in the faces of the onlookers, and the ground beneath foot was like a swamp.

There were almost as many women asmen at the scene of the wreck yesterday morning.

Captain Carver is part owner of the Susan Gilmore, and his share is insured.  Most of the other owners are not insured.  The estimated value of the Susan Gilmoreis £9000 sterling.

Captain Carver had a remarkably narrow escape yesterday morning. While trying to assist his wife ashore he was sucked below the water’s surface by the undertow, and taken in a half suffocated state down towards the vessel’s keel. Being clad in a heavy sou’-wester jacket and large sea-boots, his case became desperate, but having the advantage of a grand six-feet athletic physique, in addition to being a powerful swimmer, he managed to make the surface and struck out. While below water he succeeded in pulling off his boots and divesting himself of his superfluous clothing. He subsequently managed to clutch a line and was brought to the beach in an exhausted condition.

The sails of the wrecked vessel and the ensign were torn almost to ribbons by the gale, and the foresail especially hung like festoons of canvas from the yard.

The Tug “Irresistible” in Sydney

She Has a Bad Time

Captain Crossan’s Statement

SYDNEY, Friday, 10 p.m.

The tug Irresistible returned about nine this morning, having had a very serious time since handing over the Susan Gilmore to the Afghan. Captain Crossan, who is in charge of the Irresistible, states that he left Port Jachson late on Wednesday night, with the Susan Gilmore in tow.  The Heads were cleared shortly after midnight; the wind blowing fresh from the S.E.  At eight o’clock on Thursday morning the wind, which had been steadily increasing, veered round to the eastward, blowing a hard gale with heavy squalls from the N.E.  There was a very heavy sea, and the ship, which was flying light, laid over almost on her beam ends.  She had no canvas set, until well on in the day, when she set all fore and aft sail.  The steamer was going full speed, and making very fair way with the ship, and all were in hopes that the stormy passage would soon be ended by a safe arrival at Port Hunter, when Captain Crossan noticed that the tow rope was stranding on the hook. owing to the great strain to which it had been subjected.  Speed had to be reduced as a consequence, and both vessels made considerable leeway. Off the Point the wind came away from the N.E., and the vessels had to go about; and, although a course was steered, owing to the leeway made by the ship, Bird Island was just weathered.  The steamer Afghan, from Adelaide to Newcastle, which had been sighted for some time previous, had observed a signal of distress flying at the mizen peak of the ship and bore down, having learned by the signal what the cause was.  She proceeded to take the Susan Gilmore in tow, and having passed a line on board the Irresistible, which was made fast clear of the stranded part, she steamed away with the Susan Gilmore for Newcastle, and the tug, seeing the ship in safety, returned to port this morning.

Latest Particulars

The Susan Gilmore last night lay with her head to south-west, more broadside onto the beach. She began to bump when the tide made, and several pieces of planking have been washed ashore.  She has also, it is said, been driven slightly further up the sand towards the shore.

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